Every Scottish fighter operating in the lighter divisions who shows the first hint of potential is immediately burdened by comparison to Ken Buchanan, the greatest fighter this small nation of five million has ever produced. It is a burden they are forced to carry as they try to live up to the great lightweight world champion’s tremendous legacy, one of the greatest ever cultivated by a lightweight anywhere in any era. In every case up to now it has proved a curse, damning the unfortunate recipient of such high expectations with unrealistic promise.
The latest to be handed the mantle of “the next Ken Buchanan” label is Josh Taylor, who has just claimed the vacant Commonwelath super lightweight title in only the seventh fight of his professional career against a tough and seasoned campaigner in the shape of Derby’s Dave Ryan, former holder of the same belt. It was a significant step up in opponent for Taylor, a southpaw who can switch hit with inordinate skill. Prior to the fight he’d never gone beyond two rounds as a professional, something which added to the pressure of headlining in front of his home fans in Edinburgh meant it was a real test for the 25 year old former amateur star. It was a test he passed with flying colours from the opening bell, as he proceeded to school his opponent with a dazzling array of combinations, speed, reflexes, and superlative timing. Moving in and out, side to side, by the third round Taylor was on fire, peppering Ryan with jabs, hooks, left hand leads and bodyshots, before vacating the space to ensure that anything that came back was connecting with fresh air.
In fact, so one sided was this contest that the brutal shot to the body that ended the fight in the fifth came as a gesture of kindness, given how one-sided it had been, stopping Ryan to rapturous scenes both in and out of the ring.
Afterwards, Taylor’s promoter and manager, Barry McGuigan, repeated the claim he’s been making since Josh Taylor signed to him – namely that he considers Taylor to be the best fighter Scotland has produced since Buchanan, before going on to assert that after a couple of more fights the newly crowned Commonwealth champion will be ready to face and defeat Ricky Burns. This was no hyperbole on McGuigan’s part; the Irish boxing legend genuinely believes that under his son Shane’s tutelage, Josh Taylor can achieve greatness in the sport. That said, it seems premature to be calling out a champion in Ricky Burns who’s been to hell and back in the ring, a fighter who brings to any fight such a massive hinterland of experience and adversity to draw on. While undeniably more talented and multifaceted than Burns, Taylor at this stage would be better focusing on developing his craft without being placed under unnecessary pressure, with the British title currently in the possession of Tyrone Nurse a more realistic and worthy goal at this stage.
A product of Lochend ABC in Edinburgh, Taylor hasn’t put a foot wrong in either his amateur or pro career thus far. Sparring with the likes of up and coming pros John Thain, Tommy Philbin, and Lewis Benson on a regular basis helped shape the foundations upon which Shane McGuigan has been able to work since he turned pro after taking the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Being part of the same stable as Carl Frampton, George Groves, and Davd Haye is clearly paying huge dividends when it comes to the 25-year-old’s development, which added to the abundance of talent he brings to the table is a combination that deserves to be described as irresistible. Yet despite mixing in this kind of company, Taylor remains humble and respectful, attributes that augur well for the future.
His amateur coach and proprietor of Lochend ABC, Terry McCormack, retains a close relationship with a fighter who first waklked through the doors of his gym when he was 17. During the years he had him under his wing, McCormack organised two trips across to Freddie Roach’s famed Wildcard Gym in Hollywood, where Taylor sparred with the likes of Frankie Gomez and Guillermo Rigondeaux, excelling on each occasion. The point is that Josh Taylor hasn’t appeared from nowhere. His development is the result of years of painstaking work, sparring, and conditioning. How many world champions and legends owe their early development to amateur coaches who played a crucial role not only in forging their foundations as fighters but as men? These, truly, are the unsung heroes and mainstay of the sport.
The McGuigans deserve credit for their ability to recognise talent when they see it, and Josh Taylor is a special talent make no mistake. He fights with the confidence and composure of someone who will not and cannot be denied.
As far as comparisons go, Ken Buchanan’s world famous tartan shorts may finally have found a Scottish fighter fit to fill them again.